The Army’s celebrated first female commandant of the vaunted U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson is no longer on the job, no longer in the Army and unhappy about both.
Former Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa King speaks mostly through her attorney these days about her soured, yet historic appointment to train the Army drill sergeants who train recruits fresh off the streets to prepare for combat and to be good soldiers.
The Army suspended King from her command in November 2011 after complaints that she was a micromanager and created what she has said she was told was a “toxic command.” King was cleared of any wrongdoing and briefly reinstated six months later, only to be — in her estimation — forced to retire. King’s otherwise sterling 32-year military career ended in May amid complaints of wrongdoing by Army officials and a $10 million administrative claim against the Army for alleged mistreatment.
“A lot of the combat arms guys (apparently) thought they didn’t have to meet the standards to be drill sergeants – that I was going to give ’em a hat,” King said in a recent interview, meaning giving unqualified soldiers an unearned pass to be a drill sergeant. “And a lot of the male, combat arms officer, Ranger-types – they didn’t think I should be in that position. So they defamed me. They wouldn’t even talk to me.”
King said the mistreatment stemmed from three things: “It was because I was female, (had) no combat experience, and third because I was black. They wouldn’t talk to me; they would talk to my deputy and send me a note. They refused to work with me. Only a couple, maybe, had a discussion with me about the Drill Sergeant School.
“Other than that, my leadership, my superiors, all those sergeant majors that were supposed to support the school, they refused to interact with me because they didn’t like how I looked, and (felt) I shouldn’t be turning away their boys, because this is a boys’ job and I shouldn’t be in it,” King said.
Awkwardly, the Army awarded King its Legion of Merit honor on her way out a door she didn’t want to take at that time. King had requested her term as commandant — which was ending according to Army policy — be extended for the six months that she lost during the investigation, but that request was denied.
TRADOC, The Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Va., which oversees the Drill Sergeant School, said King was awarded the medal for “exceptional meritorious service, culminating in 32 years of military service,” Fort Eustis public affairs officer Ray E. Harp said.
“Command Sgt. Maj. King’s experience and years of exemplary service warranted her selection as the Drill Sergeant School commandant,” he said.
The Army said it extended by a year King’s military tenure to allow her to prepare for retirement.
The command said it had no knowledge of King’s $10 million administrative claim.
Under King’s command, the Army was transitioning the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson to become the Army’s standard-bearer training site for all drill sergeants, active duty and reserves, said James Smith, King’s attorney.
“This was a period of significant change,” he said. Those changes included a new building, new barracks, the combination of active duty and reserves soldier streams into the school, and importantly, according to King’s camp, proper enforcement of standards, including physical fitness and program instruction at the school.
King, whose military career was based in human resources in the Army, had never been in combat. Nonetheless, she had been nominated by the command to be put in place at the Drill Sergeant School.
“Immediately the negative commenting started,” King said, with people constantly asking how she got the job, without being in a combat unit and without having gone to war.
“Still, they pushed me into the job. So I went in there, and it was tough to start with,” King said. Once at the school, a new commander, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, Deputy Commanding General for Initial Military Training, was put in place.
From 2009 to March 2011, Hertling was over Army training at 27 military installations across the country responsible for the initial training of about 160,000 officers and enlisted soldiers entering Army training each year. Hertling retired from the military as commander of U.S. Army Europe last November.
“You could categorize the changes as a return to (military) standards,” King said. “They had deviated from the standards based on the war,” she said, training soldiers by (war) doctrine instead.
“Gen. Hertling knew it was causing the Army issues when soldiers went to war, so he said, ‘Let’s return to standards,’ and I was the person that was the face of that return to standards, and many people didn’t want to do that.”
“Now, you’ve really got to do PT (physical training),” King said. “You’ve got to really teach. You’ve got to really know your job. You’ve got to really be a drill sergeant, because there’s gonna be no rubber stamps.”
King and others said she had to release some drill sergeants from the training program, and that some drill sergeants who had been sent to the school to be instructors couldn’t meet the standards and were returned to their units.
“I wasn’t going to turn my eyes away from the standard,” King said. “That’s what they hired me for, contrary to what (some) thought I should be doing.”
Army antipathy toward King was registered in constant attempts to minimize the highly-rated commander, Smith said.
“They would disrespect her in all kinds of manner and ways. When (Brig.) Gen. Mark Hertling was there, she would get a seat at the table just like all other commanders would.
“When he was gone, her chair was taken and she was put in the back of the room. I mean, very obvious efforts to undermine her authority,” Smith said. “This is a concerted effort designed to undermine her leadership and remove her.”